FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Giving Thanks to Whom?

Last Thanksgiving President Bush flew off to visit our troops in Bagdad. In a stay of only a few hours his photographers snapped pictures for the media of the President bearing a glazed turkey. No one ate the turkey . . . it was a stage prop. The President’s political use of this traditional holiday began with the invention of a Thanksgiving mythology almost four centuries ago.

Thanksgiving Day has become our most treasured holiday. Families gather, eat turkey, and count their blessings. The annual presidential proclamation celebrates this country’s early European pioneers who survived their first winter in Massachusetts in 1621.

What is celebrated has little relationship to what actually happened: the Pilgrims arrived from England on the Mayflower in 1620 and were able to avoid starvation and death because the Wampanoug nation shared their food with the newcomers. What Europeans should commemorate is the kindness and generosity of the Wampanoug nation. Given the ultimate result of their hospitality, Native Americans do not to celebrate the day.

In 1621 Governor William Bradford of Plymouth proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for his colony — giving thanks not to the Wampanougs but to his colonists and their white Christian God. Bradford’s “spin” on events was that Europeans had staved off hunger and survived through their own skills, bravery and robust determination.

Bradford’s mutilation of the truth cannot be merely chalked up to European arrogance and impudence, though it borrows from each. His was an early example of “Eurothink.” Europeans saw people of color — no matter how much they helped, how much they knew, or how vital their contributions were to survival — as undeserving of recognition.

Governor Bradford cast Thanksgiving as a victory for fellowship since he claimed that white newcomer and dark-skinned Indigenous inhabitant sat down together to share bread, turkey and other treats. The English, in his version, invited the Native Americans who provided the feast to join the victory over famine. Were the original Americans were invited to sit down and share the meal with the newcomers? Since the English classified them as inferiors, if present at all, it was more likely they were asked to serve the food.

Once the English colonists gained military strength any tendencies to share with or extend courtesy toward their Native hosts disappeared. Colonial leaders became more aggressive. One night in 1637 and without provocation, Governor Bradford, a devout Christian who saw his colony locked in mortal combat with people he considered infidels, ordered his soldiers to attack a Pequot Indian village of sleeping men women and children. Bradford described the massacre in these words:

It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the Massachusetts militiamen] gave praise thereof to God.

Bradford appears in history texts as a hero who helped his people survive. The popular Dictionary of American History summarized his rule in these words:

He was a firm, determined man and an excellent leader; kept relations with the Indians on friendly terms; tolerant toward newcomers and new religions. . . . [P. 77]

The authoritative Columbia Encyclopedia [P. 351] states of Governor Bradford: “He maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans.”

Reverend Increase Mather was the colony’s spiritual leader and a distinguished figure in early U.S. history. His response to the tragedy was to asked his congregation to thank God that “on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell.”

Thanksgiving Day distorts American history by eliminating the contributions of the Wampanougs, and stokes white patriotism by claiming Pilgrims possessed skills, courage and elevated motives. This myth also seeks to cover up the genocidal brutality Europe’s colonial leaders unleashed — in the name of their God — on a gentle, unoffending and helpful people whose land they occupied.

The Mayflower, renamed the Meijbloom (Dutch for Mayflower), continued to make history. It reached Africa and became one of the first European ships to chain and carry enslaved African men, women and children to the Americas.

Thanksgiving should be a time to commemorate the many contributions of Indigenous Americans and African Americans to this country’s development.

We should venerate the people of color who became our first freedom-fighters, and their ability to survive a genocidal onslaught that began 500 years ago.

WILLIAM LOREN KATZ is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage and his Black Indian website is: www.williamlkatz.com

Copyright 2004 by WILLIAM LOREN KATZ

 

 

More articles by:

William Loren Katz is the author of 40 books on African American history, and has been associated with New York University as an instructor and Scholar in Residence since 1973. His website is www.williamlkatz.com. Read an interview with Katz about his life teaching and writing history.

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Craig Collins
Why Did Socialism Fail?
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail